A Reading Analysis of Michael Pollan's Environmental Book Why Bother

From the first sentence, Why Bother by Michael Pollan has an emotional tone. Throughout the several reading analyses completed in this class, a common theme throughout is a strong introductory paragraph to grab the attention of the reader. This tactic is used to draw readers in, probably because the majority of these pieces were originally featured in magazines and newspaper so an attention grabber is necessary. Because this selection is modeled around a Toulmin style argument, there is once again a large use of the three big appeals, primarily logos. The Toulmin style follows a basic form of: claim, warrants, backing, followed by the rebuttal and qualifying statement. Why Bother generally follows the Toulmin steps, although deviating slightly in that the usage of logos and pathos is greater than that of ethos. The first paragraph seems to scare the reader into reading the rest of the piece, a clever and effective usage by the author.

The problem Michael Pollan is addressing in Why Bother is that of climate change, a very real occurrence in the world today. The struggle lies in no matter how hard a single person can work to reduce their carbon footprint, there is always at least ten other people negating and reversing the good done by the individual. Climate change must be combated by an entire population, not a small sample size, although that is where progress would begin. The point Michael Pollan is arguing is that it is not too late, contrary to what the status quo believes. The thought that it is already too late is a lazy idea, there is always time to make changes. Pollan states his argument by saying "Have you looked into the eyes of a climate scientist recently? They look really scared. So do you still want to talk about planting gardens? I do” (Pollan 3). In other words, although climate change is a tremendous undertaking, there is still time to right the ship. Pollan believes the revolution against change starts with the individual, if a collection of individuals made big changes, more would soon follow.

The type of issue Michael Pollan is addressing in Why Bother is a problem-based claim. Climate change is the problem and Why Bother is Michael Pollan's plan to begin the discussion to reverse climate change. As stated earlier, mostly pathos and logos are used in this selection, with a small amount of ethos as well. On the other hand, of pathos and logos, primarily pathos is used which is an effective use due to the nature of the topic. A paper such as this requires action by the reader and pathos is generally the appeal that most coincides with a call to action. Although there is a plethora of examples of pathos, one particular passage stated “Why bother? That really is the biggest question facing us as individuals... I don't know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in An Inconvenient Truth came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me... the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to... change our light bulbs. That's when it got really depressing” (Pollan 1). This passage exemplifies the pathos appeal in a few ways. First, Pollan uses very emotional word choice throughout this selection in order to reinforce his argument and receive a more emotional response. Also, Pollan uses An Inconvenient Truth, the prototypical evidence for climate change, which is powerful logos. Last, calling on people as individuals creates a response in almost all people because they feel obligated as humans to respond to another human that called out to them. Overall, Michael Pollan constructs a strong Toulmin argument with his powerful use of logos and pathos, as well as ethos from his extensive background in the field.